Amazon on Monday unveiled the latest plan to automate American workers out of existence — a futuristic grocery store without any cashiers.
High-tech sensors and artificial intelligence are allowing shoppers at the Seattle food market to swipe an app when they enter, then roam the aisles and grab staples like bread and milk, artisanal cheeses and chocolates and ready-made meals.
Customers can watch as the items they pluck off the shelves get added to a virtual cart on the app — and subtracted if they put them back — with receipts e-mailed to them once they leave, according to the company.
The 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go store is currently open only to employees of the online retail giant, but the company plans to start letting the public in next year.
Amazon will also test out “large, multifunction stores with curbside pickup capability” and “drive-through prototype locations,” sources told The Wall Street Journal (paywall).
The company wants to open more than 2,000 brick-and-mortar grocery stores, compared with about 2,800 operated by The Kroger Co., now the nation’s largest full-service grocery retailer.
Amazon’s plans mark its latest push into the $800 billion-a-year grocery business, following it AmazonFresh delivery service that began expanding across the country in 2013 and arrived in Brooklyn in late 2014.
It also threatens countless jobs at grocery stores, which are the leading employers of cashiers and had 856,850 on their payrolls in May 2015, according to the latest figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Britt Beamer, president of America’s Research Group, a consumer-behavior research and consulting firm, estimated that Amazon’s cutting-edge technology had the potential to wipe out 75 percent of typical grocery-store staff.
“It’ll be a big job-killer,” Beamer said. “It’ll eliminate the cashier, it’ll get rid of the baggers, it’ll eliminate the stock clerks. This could be big.”
Neil Saunders, managing director of the retail research firm Conlumino, called checkout lines “the most inefficient parts of the store experience,” and said Amazon could both “save a lot on labor costs” and “make the process much quicker for consumers and much more satisfying.”
Saunders said the new-fangled shopping method could make people “feel like they stole” an item.
“There is a bit of education needed for consumers,” he said.
An Amazon spokeswoman declined to say how the company planned to prevent shoplifting.